What Is an MSDS and Do I Need One?

The shipping world loves to come up with abbreviations that are confusing, vague and required. Often a conversation with a shipping line may become a game of alphabet soup when they start telling you all of the things that are required for your shipment. One of the terms you may come across is MSDS. What is an MSDS and do you need one for your shipment? Let’s find out.

What Is an MSDS?

MSDS (Sometimes just called MSD) stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. This is a type of paperwork that must be sent any time that you are sending a hazardous cargo via freight. The thing is, sometimes materials that you may not consider hazardous can become hazardous if something happens during the shipment. This includes an accident where your shipping method catches fire or possibly if your cargo ends up mixing with another cargo that could cause them to become hazardous. If there is any doubt to the safety of what you are shipping or if it is chemical in nature then you should include an MSDS with your shipment. Generally your carrier will let you know if it is required.


What Is on an MSDS?

An MSDS contains critical information about your cargo. This information includes:
• The chemical properties of the cargo that you are shipping. This should include things like flash point, boiling point and melting point of the cargo but can also contain other properties if it is appropriate.
• If there is any level of toxicity to the cargo and what the nature of that toxicity is if someone is exposed to it. This might mean things like caustic or choking hazards if inhaled.
• What sorts of first aid should be administered to someone who is exposed to the cargo or substance. This may include things like inhalation, ingestion or contact with skin and eyes.
• What other chemicals or cargos that this might react with and what those reactions will be.
• Any specific storage instructions.
• Any specific disposal instructions.
• What PPE (personal protective equipment) should be used when handling the cargo or when cleaning it up in the case of a spill.
• Any specific spill handling procedures that must be followed due to the nature of the chemical.


Where Do I Find This Information?

The list above is pretty extensive. Finding and including all of this information may seem like a rather daunting task. Fortunately there is a great resource out there for you to take advantage of. You can find several million MSDS sheets premade at This resource will likely cover the majority of what you will be shipping.

Anything that isn’t included in this database may simply be too specific and need you to contact the manufacturer for more information.


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